I was chatting with colleagues about the mechanics of handing back papers to students. How do you do this?
As a class gets bigger, the more time it takes to return assignments and exams back to students. And at some point, you hit a threshold where it’s just impracticable.
This is an issue that some people are handling very poorly, and others are struggling to handle well.
When I was in college, in the early ’90s, one common approach in bigger classes was to simply alphabetize the papers, and array them out on a table, and students would just go pick up their own exams. Usually with the exam scores just sitting there for everybody to see. (I also remember the scores of placement exams being posted on a board next to everybody’s name, too.) This is a clear FERPA violation, and it’s clear that students who did poorly on the exam don’t want everybody shuffling through the exams and inadvertently (or not) seeing their scores. I suppose if the scores are not readily visible, then this might be okay.
I know some instructors distribute exams without keeping scores private. This is illegal in the US, and regardless of the law, it’s not a good thing to do. There’s no way that a student will perform better as a consequence of shaming them by exposing their scores to their peers. If you’re doing this, please stop. There’s no valid excuse.
Handing back papers directly to students is a great way to learn names early in the semester, but it also takes a lot of instructional time. Let’s say a course has 50 students. If we round down and estimate that it takes just 5 seconds to return a paper to each student, and you did this twice per week in a 15 week semester, you would burn two hours of instructional time, just handing back papers.
Of course, the need to hand papers back to students has declined over the years, as more and more of this can be done online. If you’re using the LMS, then students can receive their scores online, and you can just not hand them back to students unless they specifically request it. Or the entire assignment can be done online. The only time you really need to hand papers back to students is if they require some feedback.
Frequent assessment is important, but if this involves you handing things back to students frequently in a large class, this is a real barrier to giving frequent feedback in this manner. There are plenty of ways for students to receive feedback on their performance without having to hand back graded papers, but this is a classic approach that is still useful for a lot of us.
How do you deal with the issue of student privacy and the time constraints of handing back student work? How does it vary with class size?